Legspinner will leave in Sydney

Warne says it's time to retire

Peter English

December 21, 2006

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It's almost time for Shane Warne to head into the shadows © Getty Images
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Shane Warne, the most successful bowler in Test history, will retire after the final match of the Ashes series in Sydney. Warne told a news conference at the MCG he was ready to end his 15-year international career, but not before a push for a 5-0 result against England.

"I sit here a very happy man getting that urn back and I'm going to announce my retirement from international cricket, domestic cricket for Victoria and St Kilda as well," he said in the Melbourne Cricket Club's members' dining room. "It's been unbelievable. I think my journey and my ride in international cricket has been phenomenal. To have that opportunity to walk off in Sydney, where it all began a long time ago, where the ride began, then I think that's a great opportunity and something to celebrate with the team.

"It's been on my chest for a while. I probably would have retired at the end of 2005 Ashes series if we had won but it wasn't to be. I feel like I'm still bowling well enough to keep playing. It's about knowing the right time and I'd like to go out on top. I'd like to think I've earned that right to go out on my terms."

Warne arrived at his home ground after meeting with senior officials at Cricket Australia's headquarters and his farewell was broadcast live on Australian television. He will continue to play for Hampshire in England over the next two years to see out his contract, but he has no immediate plans to move into the Channel 9 commentary box.

"Who knows what the future holds? I want to spend more time with my children, that's for sure. But my focus is these next two Test matches. I'll sit back and have a few quiet beers, and a couple of smokes, and try and weigh it all up and work out what the future holds."

Warne said he would have stayed on if Australia had lost the current contest. "But this is my time, and getting the Ashes back was my mission, and I couldn't have worked the script any better," he said. "When it's your time you just know."

Apart from his world-record 699 wickets, the skill that has propelled Australia to the top of the world in Tests and ODIs, and the personality that makes him almost compulsory viewing, he has revived an art that was dying when he first started to bowl. Australia's previous big-name legspinner was Richie Benaud, who retired in the 1960s, but Warne turned history on its head.



Shane Warne wrapped up the Ashes in Perth on Monday © Getty Images
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He started by receiving a thrashing in 1991-92, but he recovered and seemed to peak during the prolific years of 1993 (72 wickets) and 1994 (70), when his mesmerising powers quickly made him a global figure. Back then his nickname was Hollywood and he claimed his life was a soap opera. The show will not stop despite today's decision.

Amazingly, Warne was not only able to maintain his danger through career-threatening finger and shoulder injuries and a 12-month drug ban, but he was able to increase it. In 1996 he had a serious operation on his finger, the shoulder surgery in 1998 was supposed to finish him and the rest forced in 2003 by a diuretic he took to lose weight was expected to send him into the commentary box for life. Each time he came back stronger, wilier and wildly successful.

In the past three calendar years he has 208 wickets, including a record 96 in 2005, and has ruined a new generation of aggressive batsmen. He did it mostly with his legspinners, topspinners and a fast-bowler's attitude. The feared flipper, the "mystery ball" of the 1990s which did more to unnerve batsmen than any of his other qualities, was never as skiddy after the finger and shoulder operations. Instead he used variations - he could deliver five or six legspinners - and mentally tested batsmen with his accuracy, stamina and histrionics. It has been a breathtaking mix.

Over the past two Tests he has floored England in the second innings and re-captured the Ashes that his team-mates lost in 2005. With a double of 40 wickets and 249 runs in that series, Warne did not deserve to be in the defeated side. On the field he was magnificent, but off it he was a mess, crying in his room at the break-up of his marriage. The indiscretions were as much part of Warne as his total control whenever he entered a cricket ground. It is an incredible contradiction.



Warne passes Dennis Lillee's 355 wickets in New Zealand in 2000 © AFP
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Warne was born in Melbourne on September 13, 1969 and wanted a career as an Australian rules footballer. Fortunately he failed and his sharp sporting mind and huge wrists concentrated on cricket. He made his debut for Victoria in 1991 and his first two overs went for 20. Later that year he was drinking with his mates at the MCG not knowing that in a week he would be appearing in his first Test. He had played only four first-class games for his state and the step up was a shock.

The following summer he toured Sri Lanka, taking 3 for 11 to win a lost Test, and rattled West Indies with 7 for 52 on his home ground to start a magical, eventful, controversial and never-to-be repeated ride. It was the moment he realised he was good enough to be a full-time member of the side.

He passed Dennis Lillee's Australian record of 355 in New Zealand in 2000 and took the world mark four years later in India. His best figures of 8 for 71 came against England at the Gabba in 1994-95 and he holds an unwanted record of having the most runs (3043) without scoring a century. He said the biggest lows of his career were the 1996 World Cup loss and the one-run defeat against West Indies in 1992-93 while the Adelaide victory earlier this month was the greatest match he played in.

After 143 Tests he is one away from taking his 700th victim at the MCG from Boxing Day. He wants to be remembered as "an entertainer, who enjoyed himself along the way". "I sit here today with every single trophy in the Cricket Australia cabinet," he said. "I retire a very happy man.

"My life has been unbelievable. I'm going out on top, and in my terms. It's a day of celebration." In two Tests he will be gone and Australia will lose its second greatest player.

Peter English is the Australasian editor of Cricinfo

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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